MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

Bruce move signals Indians' 2017 motives

Cleveland all-in on World Series goal as championship drought hovers

Bruce move signals Indians' 2017 motives

When Michael Brantley's sprained right ankle made him unavailable to the Indians on Wednesday, it was the ninth time this season that they placed an outfielder on the disabled list -- this from a team that has used the DL a total of 16 times. There was a pretty decent chance going into the season that the Tribe's outfield would be a hodgepodge of rotating bodies out of design, but necessity has also intervened.

That's one issue that drove the Indians to make a move on Wednesday night for Jay Bruce, a player whose 29 homers and career-best OPS output were essentially ignored at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline but still movable in this August period.

The other issue is that Cleveland keeps coming short in the clutch. It happened again in Wednesday's particularly wrenching 3-2 loss in extra innings to Colorado, and it has been a surprising trend all season for a club that ponied up big bucks for Edwin Encarnacion to lengthen the lineup. The Rockies game didn't apply to this list, but there have been 27 games this season in which the Tribe went 0-fer with runners in scoring position. That's basically a quarter of the regular season featuring these empty outcomes.

Enter Bruce, whose bat should conceivably assist the effort here. Beyond the aforementioned dinger total and .841 OPS and the 120 wRC+ mark that ranks behind only Jose Ramirez (137) and Encarnacion (122) on the Tribe, Bruce has a .290/.364/.634 slash line with RISP and .300/.370/.618 marks with runners on. The Indians, in their all-in effort to get back to the World Series and end the game's longest championship drought, need somebody who can cash in in the clutch, and the 30-year-old Bruce fits the profile.

Graves on Bruce trade

But Bruce will also cash in another $3.7 million through the remainder of the regular season. It has been frankly stunning to see the Indians so aggressively pursue a ring on the financial front. They took on the remainder of Andrew Miller's $9 million salary in 2016 (as well as the $9 million he's making this year and next), they committed $60 million to Encarnacion over three years and they threw another $6.5 million at Boone Logan (only to see his season end with an injured lat muscle last month). The Tribe already had about a 30-percent increase between the Opening Day payrolls of 2016 and '17. So taking on between $4 million and $5 million for Bruce and reliever Joe Smith is no small thing, even if the return for Bruce (Class A pitcher Rydar Ryan) doesn't seem like a high price to pay.

The thing is, Bruce's true value has been compromised by the conditions of a game experiencing a major power influx. The Mets weren't even guaranteed to reap free-agent Draft pick compensation for him this offseason, because he would have to turn down a qualifying offer in the neighborhood of $18 million and sign a $50 million contract elsewhere for them to recoup one. Considering the way sluggers like Encarnacion, Mark Trumbo and Mike Napoli saw their markets crater last offseason, it's impossible to blindly assume Bruce will get a deal that large.

Bruce went untouched in this trade market because of the dearth of contenders with a defined need in the outfield (witness the somewhat light return the Tigers got from the D-backs for J.D. Martinez). But with Brantley on the shelf, Lonnie Chisenhall still working his way back from a right calf injury and the continuing offensive issues in key situations, Bruce made an increasing amount of sense.

Still, it's a bit of a roll of the dice, because of the financials, because of the roster complexion and because of Bruce's sheer streakiness. The Mets got him in an especially bad moment down the stretch last season, as he contributed just a .219/.294/.391 slash line to their cause.

Cleveland can only hope for a better result here in the home stretch of 2017. The Indians' season has been more erratic than advertised, but the postseason opportunity is still very much in front of them. And the acquisition of Bruce is yet another example of them leaving no stone unturned in that World Series pursuit.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.